Whose Arts & Ideas?

“First-Person Plural,” the preceding blog, lays the groundwork for this one. If you haven’t read it already, you might want to start there.

As soon as your eye slips down the screen (it has already, right?), it will become apparent that I have just discovered that my little photo program (Serif PhotoPlus SE) can do much more than crop, size, and retouch photos. I cannot draw a straight line on paper and I cannot draw a straight line on a computer screen, but boy, is this fun. πŸ™‚

The first issue of Martha’s Vineyard Arts & Ideas is handsome indeed. The design is clean, the art and photo reproductions excellent. The creative collaboration between Rose Abrahamson and Cindy Kane is delightfully evoked in both images and words; Stephen DiRado’s photo portrait Mathilda is remarkable, and so is his description of how he made it; Tova Katzman’s photos add a dimension to Marnie Stanton’s story about water that could not be found in a newspaper.

So why did this magazine make me so angry that it’s taken me two weeks to calm down enough to write about it?

When I see “Martha’s Vineyard” in a name, I don’t immediately know which Martha’s Vineyard is meant, the year-round one or the summer one. Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, the Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank, and Sail Martha’s Vineyard? Year-round, of course. The Martha’s Vineyard Institute, the Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing, and the Martha’s Vineyard Book Festival? Those live on the summer island. When year-rounders are involved, it’s as support staff.

I so wanted Martha’s Vineyard Arts & Ideas to be a year-round thing. Where do year-rounders get to discuss, share, hone, and test our ideas about surviving and creating in this split-screen place? Other than our own kitchen tables, front porches, and Facebook, the options are few. Doesn’t look as though MVA&I will increase the number. The ideas to be found here are not the ones that puzzle and preoccupy me in my day-to-day life as an island creative working person.

Editor Patrick Phillips, according to an interview last month in Martha’s Vineyard Patch, has lived here less than six years. It shows. An editor more familiar with the island’s creative history might have fixed some of the gaps and confusions in his writers’ stories. Featherstone Center for the Arts did not spring out of nowhere: its collateral and spiritual ancestors included Meetinghouse, Wintertide Coffeehouse, the Art Workers’ Guild, and the Martha’s Vineyard School of Photography. One particularly muddled sentence suggests that Featherstone existed in 1978 and was founded by Virginia Besse: it didn’t, and Besse was one co-founder among several.

More significant is the complete omission of music. Of all the artistic/creative scenes on Martha’s Vineyard, music is arguably the most vital, diverse, year-round, and indigenous.

Ten — count ’em, ten — prose pages are devoted to reprints of work by Ward Just and Edward Hoagland. Another page goes to Fanny Howe, a poet who (last I looked) doesn’t live here. WTF? Way to kick Vineyard poets and writers in the face, people. Have you not been around long enough to realize just how much excellent writing is being done here, and by writers who don’t have the publisher connections of Just, Hoagland, and Howe?

Editor Phillips, he who has been here less than six years, uses the first-person plural with abandon. These are all from his introductory Editor’s Letter: our community, our connected imagination, our collective attention to a better future, our community conversation, we can all better imagine . . . At this point, Phillips adopts the royal we: our role as a publisher, our first editorial principle, we believe the role of the media, we will use . . .

Finally, in the last paragraph, we [sic] have two Is. The second precedes the word humbled: “I’m humbled . . .” The word humbling appears in the MVPatch interview mentioned above. Phillips doesn’t know what he doesn’t know, but he’s going to tell us all about it anyway? Humility is not the first word that comes to mind here.

About Susanna J. Sturgis

Susanna edits for a living, writes to survive, and has been preoccupied with electoral politics since 2016. She just started a blog about her vintage T-shirt collection: "The T-Shirt Chronicles." Her other blogs include "From the Seasonally Occupied Territories," about being a year-round resident of Martha's Vineyard, and "Write Through It," about writing, editing, and how to keep going.
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7 Responses to Whose Arts & Ideas?

  1. Hal Davis says:

    Can’t argue with that.

    Love seeing you writing again.


  2. Hal Davis says:

    Sounds like they need you on staff, perhaps as editor.


  3. Patrick Phillips says:

    I hear you, as best I can.

    The typos are rookie errors not meant to insult β€” sorry for those. We’re getting a good copy editor.

    A&I will grow and will share more space with fiction and other writers here β€” we will. It’s important to us. Very.

    As for writers in this issue: Mathea Morais is a hard working mom. Not been here long, but she cares. Marnie Stanton is a committed environmentalist, mom and grandmom too. Andrea Rogers was excited about writing her piece. Lucinda Sheldon was touched. Justen is deserving… Lynne Whiting writes in the next issue… Donald Nitchie too.

    We will bring work from elsewhere. I was fascinated by Hoagland and Ward. One reason we do those is that it helps Bunch of Grapes sell books. That’s important too. Our pages are limited. Our budget tight.

    Again, we do need more local writers.

    There is more coming soon. Much more to learn, really β€” honestly.

    I welcome more insight on what constructive things we can do.

    Patrick Phillips


  4. Another variation: Privileged person goes on about being “humbled” in the presence of not-so-privileged people, then not-so-privileged person suggests (usually with excruciating tact) that privileged person does not know everything. Privileged person then gets very red in the face and someone turns the camera off.

    Also: “I am very humbled by this great honor because X, Y, and Z are far more deserving of it than I am, and I’m amazed that we’ve gotten this far with none of them stabbing me in the back.”


  5. susan says:

    I’ve observed over the years that every time someone says they are humbled or something is humbling to them, they mean the opposite. Why this is so consistent, I don’t know. People say it when they get elected, receive an honor. I always hear some version of, I am feeling pompous about this.
    It’s more powerful people, also always in my observation, who believe they speak for those who don’t have that particular power. Not less powerful to more powerful. Not less powerful to less powerful.
    As far as I can see, animals and plants and rocks and sky don’t do that.


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